The long fallout of President George H.W. Bush's complicated racial legacy

NBC News | 1/7/2009 | Staff
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Inside the National Cathedral in Washington and beyond it on Wednesday, George H.W. Bush was lauded as a courageous and decorous leader, “America’s last great soldier-statesman.” He was described as a loving father, a man with an appreciation for the zany parts of life and, as one columnist put it, the vanishing embodiment of a ruling class of trusted WASPs.

But amid the praise since Bush’s death, there have also been pointed critiques of his way of doing politics and winning the White House, which drew from a habit of relentless pragmatism, including on matters of race and questions of equity.

Bush - Strategy - Stereotyping - Suspicion - Fear

Bush employed a strategy of subtle stereotyping, playing on suspicion, fear and group-based guilt, political experts and historians say. The combination remains so potent that Democrats and Republicans have grappled for decades with Bush’s methods — and some have outright emulated them.

For some African Americans and Bush’s political opponents, the Bush legacy also demonstrates the way that pernicious allusions to race can influence elections and all the consequences for power and exclusion that follow.

Bush - Stance - Campaign - Speeches - Ad

Bush’s tough-on-crime stance in his 1988 presidential campaign, including in his speeches and an ad from an outside group about a black criminal named Willie Horton, has been cited by many historians of racial politics and even some Republicans as helping to drive decades of politics low on justice or equity.

For many Republicans, an overwhelmingly white group, the Bush presidency was good for black America.

Notion - School - Choice - Bush - Louis

It is where the current notion of school choice began to flourish, and Bush named Louis Sullivan, a black man who was dean of the historically black Morehouse University School of Medicine, to his Cabinet. As secretary of health and human services, Sullivan was a fierce tobacco opponent because, in part, of its disproportionate effect on black health.

“H.W. Bush is everywhere, in ways that...
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